Monthly Archives: August 2016

Tawasol at ISAAC

Dana and TullahI presented “Core Vocabularies: Same or different for Bilingual Language Learning and Literacy Skill building with Symbols?” and together with Dana; “Developing an Arabic Symbol Dictionary for AAC users: Bridging the Cultural, Social and Linguistic Gap”. We received a lot of great feedback about both presentations and many people showed interest in our project. One Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) from Malta approached us having very similar issues with the analysis of core vocabulary. She mentioned that the issues I discussed in my presentation were almost identical to the issues in Maltese and was seeking advice on how to categorise pronouns given their attachment to nouns in the Maltese language.

A few SLPs from Israel approached us seeking advice about resources and access to our symbols as 20% of the population is Arabic speaking.  A team from Germany and a team from Sweden were very interested in using our symbols with refugees and the German team were interested in collaborating with us on a project that focused on a German/Arabic symbol dictionary.

Many attendees also found our second presentation very insightful as Dana and I discussed the criteria we used to adapt the symbols to be culturally appropriate. Several commented that they found the Arabic cultural and social norms as well as environmental considerations very different when compared to their personal experiences and were grateful for opening their eyes to things that would have never occurred to them as being offensive or unsuitable.

One of the highlights of this trip was the screening of our film at the ISAAC Film Festival which can now be seen on the Arabic and English home pages of the Tawasol Symbol website. Our film shared the story of Mohammed, an eye gaze user for whom we developed prayer symbols so that he could actively participate in prayer with his family. It was screened alongside approximately 10 other films from around the world and provided such a unique insight into the mix of films presented. Many people approached me after the screening and congratulated the Tawasol team on our “amazing work”, a “wonderful film” and a few took our details as they could see how the prayer symbols could benefit some of their clients.

film festivalFilm Mohammed

For the rest of the week, Dana and I went to sessions with a focus on core vocabularies and where possible in bi-lingual situations. It seemed that the issue of core vocabularies in other languages being quite different to English was a global linguistic challenge; whether it was Spanish, Maltese, Hebrew or German.

We visited the exhibition and saw some great new products and services. At the Boardmaker/TobiiDynavox stand we were shown some of their new apps including SnapScene and Pathways for Snap Scene. In these apps you are able to take pictures, add voice recordings, circle and highlight objects in images as well as label them. Pathways then gives you tips and tools on how to make these pictures an opportunity for communication, social interaction and learning. We also visited VocalID who customise your speech generated device to sound just like you. We topped off our ISAAC 2016 experience by attending the BUILD meeting whose members hope to bring together people working in AAC in developing countries. It was lovely to see/hear the work being done in South Africa, Taiwan, Singapore, Africa and Eastern European countries. It really made us think about creating an ISAAC Arabia or at least get the conversation going as to how we are collectively advancing the status of AAC users in the Arab region.

Quote ISAAC

What We Learnt at ISAAC

ISAAC bag

ISAAC was an incredible experience. There was so much new research and knowledge that was shared and for me brought to light the significance of continuing education. It made me realise that it is through workshops and seminars at conferences that we become better clinicians and researchers and rid our practices of outdated and ineffective means of intervention.

I kicked off the week by attending the pre-conference workshops. As I waited for the first workshop to begin, I met a lovely lady by the name of Mathilde Suc-Mella from France. She is a teacher by profession but things changed for her when she had her first son who was diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome. This was the beginning of their AAC journey. She felt that she had to educate herself on AAC if she was ever going to be able to communicate with her son effectively. She says that AAC resources in France were scarce and until now she has found that the knowledge and resources around AAC are not as advanced as in English speaking countries. She has travelled far and wide and done many courses and trained with some of the best in the field of AAC including Gayle Porter – Creator of the PODD approach.  This is when she decided that she wanted to create a PODDs version in French. We shared our challenges of not having core vocabularies in the languages we work in and how different the languages are to English from a linguistic point of view. Her determination to advance the status of AAC in France and to train others in this field was inspiring. She has her own website called CAApables.

As for the workshops themselves, here are some notes I took:

Kathryn Garrett and Joanne Lasker
The AAC-Aphasia Framework: Where do we go now?

  • AAC is not instantly successful, it takes time because it’s an external means of communication and is practically a new language.
  • All the evidence suggests that people with Aphasia like supported conversation i.e. a combination of things to convey a message e.g. drawing, simple text, provision of options and circling/crossing correct/incorrect answers etc. However communication partners don’t always offer this to their loved one with Aphasia because “they’re too busy” or they “know what their partner wants” or “find it difficult to pose options” of what the person with aphasia may want.
  • AAC for those with aphasia tends to be a last resort when therapy isn’t working or they’re discharged. This needs to change.

Aphasia presAphasia experts and Tullah

Pat Mirenda
Taking the Initiative: Supporting Spontaneous Communication in Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Spontaneous communication is important in providing AAC users with control over their environment and the ability to learn more. It builds self-determination and the ability to communicate when they want and what they want.
  • Not all AAC users are able to achieve spontaneity because of poor instruction not because they can’t do it. Research shows that people with Autism can provide spontaneous communication most commonly in the form of body language and less so with symbols. This is because people with Autism are very good at doing EXACTLY what you teach them. So if you are only teaching them to communicate in structured conversations that’s exactly what they’ll do.
  • PECS was designed to promote spontaneous communication but a lot of the time spontaneity is not achieved. Here are some common mistakes clinicians make:
  • The manual is not read or followed properly
  • Use of the wrong motivators or the SAME motivators. Motivation is key to the success of PECS
  • The clinician should NOT be talking at all except when the clinician is given the card by the Person with Autism
  • The first phase cannot be completed without a physical prompter
  • Clinician reacting before the symbol card is in their hand
  • Choosing the wrong time e.g. offering a snack reinforcer straight after lunch
  • Using more than one symbol in phase 2
  • Not increasing the distance or not gradually increasing the distance
  • Failing to take PECS book everywhere
  • Failing to give what is requested
  • PECS should be done right through to the end- phase 6. A lot of people stop at phase 3 – requesting
  • Unfortunately our main goal is to get kids with Autism to ask for things then stop. What about engaging and commenting? Requesting only provides them with limited opportunities.
  • We sometimes see kids with Autism as less like normal people than more like normal people when the latter is the case.

Carole Zangari and Gloria Soto
Supporting Vocabulary Development in Students Who Use AAC: Practical Approaches for Educators and SLPs

  • AAC devices should be sufficient enough for use post-school environment. More often than not it has limited vocabulary and is activity based.
  • There needs to be a focus on core vocabularies and a wider set of vocabulary otherwise you are placing a ceiling on language development.
  • Sometimes we think that more vocabulary is beyond the capacity of the AAC user but we actually do more harm to the AAC user by limiting vocabulary.
  • More vocabulary = more opportunities for communication, commenting, and engaging.
  • Shouldn’t use too many words too soon = confusing and icons become too small
  • Play-dough should not be the goal, the goal should be the learning of new core word/s through an activity like play dough e.g. “make”
  • Vocabulary development in typically developing kids/mainstream schools is flawed (vocab books -> pre-test for the week > copy > match to definition > quiz on words i.e. teach / test / Words not taught to be used in context so no generalisation to the real world) So it is expected that when taught to those with learning disabilities it’ll be flawed too.
  • We should also stay away from teaching for meaning only and not worry about grammar. E.g we let it pass if a student says “I goed there”. Rather we should try to teach the student to fix their sentence e.g. “you said a word wrong in that sentence, can you try to fix it? “You said I goed there, the verb sounds wrong.”  “Should it be goed or went?”,   “can you say the sentence again using the right verb?”  “Does that sound better?” (self-evaluation)
  • Start off with a smaller set of core words and add words each month- have word of the week/month. Set goals with more and more advanced boards “start with the end in sight”.
  • Give them the meaning of the word e.g. “upset” – upset means angry, you seem a little upset, you seem a little angry.
  • Show them how to use words in context of different activities. They don’t have to achieve the word to 80% accuracy all the time, it’s ok to float between 50-80% otherwise it’ll hold them back from learning more.
  • Incorporate into activities they enjoy/have personal interest in. Use them throughout the day e.g. singing, writing, playing, in surveys. E.g. the word is “go”. Ask them to survey the class – “where do you like to go?”, “How do you go home?”.
  • Use every opportunity to say the word throughout the day- word bombardment
  • Can combine core word teaching with curriculum based vocab. E.g.

WEEK1: I, go, me (core) + continue, monotheism, memorise

WEEK2: week 1+ week 2 words

Carole Zangari

Tawasol Symbols’ Graphic Designer’s experience of attending ISAAC 2016

Dana at the podium speaking

Dana Lawand at ISSAC 2016

We received positive feedback from conference attendees on the creation of culturally orientated symbols and the appeal of illustrating differences between male and female figures based on social settings and religious sensitivities.

 

Therapists showed interest in our approach as to how we were developing our symbols and it was exciting to learn more about AAC users who benefit from animated symbols.

thank you Many Arabic speaking individuals use expressive hand gestures and at present the Tawasol symbols show this in a static image such as ‘thank you’ with the palm of the right hand on the chest. However, the action of the palm of the right hand going to the chest with a bowing of the head can be a sign of respect or thanks. But as with all cultures these gestures require careful localisation and more participatory research. Nevertheless, adding animation to some of the present Tawasol symbols could make the use of the symbols more inclusive.

It was immensely encouraging to find a general sense that there is a need for Arabic culturally specific symbols globally, as well as for those countries in the Gulf where the project has been funded by the Qatar National Research Fund. This was highlighted by people from those countries who have been welcoming Syrian refugees and attendees from other Arabic nations around the world.

At the ISAAC Build meeting we realised that we need much more support from other Arab organisations and other countries with large Arabic speaking populations to bridge the gaps in our dialogue those supporting Arabic AAC users.

It would be good to collaborate with individual Arabic country representatives and speakers in the hope that we could make more of an impression at ISAAC 2018 which will be held on the Gold Coast in Australia!

Personally as a graphic designer I feel we need more research to:

• back up the development of type of design I have developed for Tawasol symbols to further prove that they are an efficient and speedy way for symbol communication, whilst also encouraging literacy skills.
• build on our findings about what is key to good symbol design for all ages of Arabic AAC users for example the use of particular colours, shapes and more about the look and feel as we consider animation.

As someone who had not worked with AAC users prior to my work on the Tawasol Symbols, an example of these ideas came from an experience I had with my bright lipstick as an eye catcher! I learnt about the impact of personalising symbols after meeting a four-year-old child who had been diagnosed with autism. He introduced me to the concept of being attracted by bright colours and how with our Symbol Creator (http://tawasolsymbols.org/en/create-symbols/) and the addition of different versions of symbols could perhaps enhance his chances of enjoying communication.

In conclusion I want to emphasise that we are not only creating freely available uniquely styled symbols (that we hope will be seen as an addition to other symbol sets), but that they are backed up by research from our AAC forum participants. I feel passionate about wanting to continue researching the subject to provide symbols that are supported by users’ real requirements as they strive to communicate their needs and wants.

think So in addition to our attention to cultural, religious, social and linguistic sensitivities we must keep thinking of new ideas and innovate to create the most efficient symbols that reach out to all our users.

Dana Lawand – Tawasol Symbols Granphic Designer

News from the ISAAC conference and recent work

ISAAC film festival posterThe ISAAC 2016 conference in Toronto has seen the launch of our film about Mohammed and his use of the Tawasol symbols for praying. The importance of personalisation and localisation of communication charts to suit user needs is illustrated.  The setting of the film takes you to Qatar and straight into a Doha home where one can see the difference listening to participants in this sort of a project can make.

Share and Believe, A Symbolic Journey

Mohammed using his Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) aid to express his feelings about the Tawasol symbols and what he has achieved. We would like to say thank you for his support and his family whilst we have been working to develop freely available symbols that can be used alongside any other symbol sets but take into account Gulf and other Arabic cultural, religious and social settings. The team have been working in collaboration with AAC users, families, teachers and professionals in Doha, Qatar and hope to offer many more symbols in the future that will also help those with literacy and language skill difficulties as well as for use in signage etc.

 

The team feel this has been one of the most important outcomes of the Arabic Symbol Dictionary – a freely available set of symbols that can work with any other symbol set to support Arabic AAC users, those with literacy skill difficulties and for use in the local environment.  We have worked hard with local participants to achieve a mix of Qatari and Arabic dress, religious culture and take into account social etiquette and sensitivities.  Much more has to be done and we are working hard to increase the vocabulary in the coming months.

At the conference we were lucky enough to have two papers accepted and here are the PowerPoints that went with the presentations. The ISAAC Conference program provides links to the abstracts
Core Vocabularies: Same or different for Bilingual Language Learning and Literacy Skill building with Symbols?

Developing an Arabic Symbol Dictionary for AAC users: Bridging the Cultural, Social and Linguistic Gap.

Finally in the last few weeks we have been working with CommuniKate and Joe Reddington to add all our symbols to two general communication charts in English and Arabic which can be personalised as the charts are built using PowerPoint slides.  The system has been developed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License and we are very grateful for the support Joe and Kate have given us with the project.

The English test sample chart is available and is best seen using the Firefox browser, but here is a screen grab of the Arabic version that is still being worked on as we want it to work with text to speech in the same way as the English version.  When you select a symbol the word appears in the window and the text to speech reads it out. At present the English version is using eSpeak but we need to find a good Arabic voice and the correct sentence construction with the appropriate character word changes as the symbols are selected.

Arabic Communication chart